By Valencia Vixama – 1851 Contributor
Professor Jessie Tauriac, 46, Chief Diversity Officer and Director of the Donahue Institute sits down to chat with student Valencia Vixama and reflects on his current career and time at Lasell.
Has teaching always been your dream career path? If not, what led you to take this path?
My sophomore year of high school I took a career aptitude test and my top three results were psychologist, rabbi, and psychiatrist. The rabbi wasn’t going to work and I knew I didn’t want to go to med school so psychologist was actually the category [I went with].
After I finished my undergraduate years, for a period of time I was a campus minister so I worked with college students and really enjoyed connecting with [them]. … I think that there definitely was something about connecting with college students that I really loved. My first year of grad school was when I entered the classroom — and [I] enjoyed it but didn’t necessarily know if I wanted to be a clinician, a researcher, or professor. It wasn’t until I went back into the classroom a few years later, …for the first time [teaching] my own course, that I knew. [It was very] transformative and empowering.
What do you feel sets you apart from other professors on campus?
There are so many professors on this campus who are better teachers, are invested, are passionate, and teach areas that just intimidate the hell out of me! There’s no way I could cover those areas so I want to acknowledge that and recognize that fact. One of the reasons why I chose Lasell was because I wanted to teach in an institution where faculty deeply cares about and is committed to their students. Having said that, I think that there’s a way that my focus on social identities and inequalities is different than most faculty members. I know that there are others who address this and some of the projects that they use are fabulous. And [then the] ones that I may not be able to use but I feel like this is the central focus of the work that I do. It’s also different because I am the colleges chief diversity officer and the director of the Donahue Institute. I have a very different role than most faculty. I only teach one class per semester and then a number of directed studies and the biggest difference is my other areas of responsibility that light outside of the classroom.
Being surrounded by so many people focusing their studies in areas different than yours, is there any major you wish you could learn more about?
I think in terms of other areas of interest there are the skill areas in hindsight I wish that I had taken advantage of. More opportunities to write, really focus and build my skills. Whether that was through using the academic achievement center to get tutoring or focusing on English courses perhaps, and minoring. In terms of a focus area I would’ve loved to have studied African-American studies.
You can minor in diversity and inclusion? Why is this not widely known?
It’s on the list of minors on the Lasell website. But honestly sometimes it has to do with how much the students advisor is familiar with the plan and interests of the student.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I see myself working in an educational context as the chief diversity officer and a more expanded role to the one I currently have. I imagine that will be at Lasell and hope that that is the case.
Where do you see this school in five years?
Our society is growing increasingly diverse, and intercultural competence is going to be increasingly important. In terms of my focus area, I see the institution to be more focused in addressing how we will be able to prepare students for a more diverse and global society.
If you were a student here at Lasell, what do you think your experience would be — judging by what you see on campus today?
College is less about where you go and more about what you do when you get there. I would recognize how important it is to get involved in student clubs, get involved in research projects, internship options and make change. I would also take a class with Karin Raye because she is an awesome professor amongst other professors. I would also take advantage of programs…such as Shoulder to Shoulder.
How would you interpret the social climate among campus students?
I think it varies depending on the social networks that students have. How much they’re able to connect with student organizations, sports teams, folks in residential life or folks who are active in commuter life. It’s hard to say candidly, I think that like a lot of colleges there are ways students can sometimes or can be very cliquey… Having said all that, I know folks who have incredibly meaningful relationships here on campus. Some have built relationships with people who are extremely different, who come from all walks of life and they formed bonds that are life long.
Does this relate or differ to the social climate amongst faculty?
Also another really good question. I think college is a very different time, often because people are living in the same area and they have so much in common… In the same mode, faculty often they are juggling so many competing demands that they’re not necessarily able to build the same kinds of relationships I think that it can be very easy for faculty to get to know people who are in their school but miss out on other opportunities to get to know faculty from other schools. There are some people who are really tight and have a great relationships. And other people who never socialize with different faculty members.
Biggest stigma you deal with in your department?
I think people have the assumption that because I am focused on diversity and inclusion and my department is focused on those areas we walk around as paranoid, hypersensitive, race baiting people who are snowflakes and who bash people with different viewpoints. That is not the case, however for people who don’t know us as well, I feel that is their mindset.
Do you feel this is due to people making their own assumptions due to lack of information or plain ignorance?
I think it’s both in terms of people not knowing enough and filling in the blanks, if you will. Then other people not having enough information because we have to spread the word differently. I think some people had very negative experiences as it relates to learning about diversity and inclusion, or they don’t have a lot of experience and so for them this can be a very anxiety provoking topic. It makes them feel very nervous or uncomfortable.
What can you say has been the biggest lesson you’ve learned through teaching students?
The biggest lesson I’ve learned through teaching students is just how smart, talented, and insightful students are and how capable they are of affecting change in a positive way. Students bring their lived experiences to classes and that allows them to connect with one another and to make the material that I am presenting so much more powerful and enriching then it would otherwise be. I’ve learned so much from my students
If you had the power to change one thing about the school, effective immediately, what would it be?
If I had the power to change one thing about the school effective immediately it would be for us to have a hell of a lot more money to invest in areas that I think would be worthwhile. That feels like a cop out answer so I’ll come up with something else. I would love it if we could come up with more opportunities for professional development, more time to get to know one another at deeper levels, and [if] we were better positioned to build connections across various differences. I think there’s so many people who are here who work so hard — they really are devoted to our students in our community and unfortunately because of all of those competing demands it doesn’t allow us to really build the kind of connections that I think we need to so that every student feels like they belong here.
Have there been any really great programs that you would have wished students at Lasell could have participated in?
Oh hell yes! There are so many, it’s hard to pick just one. …There is an alumna of Lasell, she graduated in 2005, her name is Natalie Gillard …She designed a game to teach people about structural equality.
Do you believe the school is as inclusive as they say it is?
I don’t believe this school is anywhere near as inclusive as it wants to be. … I don’t feel that we meet those goals. Unfortunately I feel like that’s the case at pretty much every school I’ve ever worked at so I don’t feel like its unique to just Lasell.
Original photo taken by Valencia Vixama